[Interview] 8-Bit Studios Changes the MOBA Scene with Skara: The Blade Remains
As a relatively new genre, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena’s (MOBA) are growing with their expanding communities and eSports popularity. League of Legends, Smite, and DOTA, are a few games of the genre that have captured the hearts and minds of millions. The people over at 8-Bit Studios are creating a unique experience and approach to the traditional MOBA format by creating a new genre, Multiplayer Online Versus or MOV.
Skara: The Blade Remains, an upcoming free-to-play PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4 title, puts you in a dying world as you struggle for survival in 16 player hand-to-hand combat. Pablo Rodriguez, CEO and Creative Director at 8-Bit Studios, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his genre-defining, multiplatform game.
Me: A year into development for an ambitious online arena game and 8-Bit have grown exponentially. Skara: The Blade Remains was greenlit on Steam in just a matter of days. You were also selected for Microsoft's Ventures Accelerator. How has that affected the vision and development of the game?
Pablo: “The last months have been an incredible ride for us. I think all the good news confirms that we are on the right path. The community of gamers we have attracted seem to like the new genre concept we are developing - MOV - Multiplayer Online Versus. Microsoft Ventures Accelerator has been very helpful by providing us with the software and the server architecture, and we have incredible mentors and advisors that are making it all happen. Our vision has always been flexible enough to remain the same: listen to our future players and develop the game with the help and feedback of the community.”
Me: It’s apparent there is a huge focus on community involvement. You guys have even modeled some characters from your community members in the actual game. What other ways do you anticipate to reward your dedicated community members? What does that development philosophy bring to the table? How has it helped/hindered you?
Pablo: “Our community members help us in so many ways. We are a small indie studio and have some good ideas, but when you have thousands of fans talking about the game and telling us what they like and don’t like, amazing things start to happen, things that we wouldn’t even dream about. This is how the game has improved—by getting lots of feedback and new ideas as we go along.
That’s why the forum part of our website is so important. Committed fans can go on there and communicate with our team on a daily basis. When we are coming up with some new concept art or have a game design idea, we publish the idea in the forum and get feedback.
We anticipate the forum remaining an important part of the game even after it’s been launched, but once people are playing the game, we are designing ways for them to collaborate even more.
For example, players will be able to create their own factions – clans and tribes inside every race. Members of the faction will be able to describe the faction’s background, the appearance and the background story. Our art team will build this into the game by, for example, illustrating them. The community will choose the best of them to be modelled and released in Skara.
We are a small indie studio and have some good ideas, but when you have thousands of fans talking about the game... amazing things start to happen, things that we wouldn’t even dream about. This is how the game has improved—by getting lots of feedback and new ideas as we go along.
Skara will write its story through the players’ actions and the success of their factions and races. For example, if the Khärn factions win many battles, their tribes will expand their territories and will be immortalized in the rankings and Skara’s history records. The most successful players and characters will be named Heroes and Kings, remembered in the future as the people who, at one time, ruled Skara. This is the way we want to reward great players: By immortalizing them as the true protagonists of the game.”
Me: In the world of Skara, there are 5 factions - Khärn, Durno, Tamvaasa, Shinse, and Celea - with unique characteristics, abilities, and aesthetics. In the alpha gameplay footage it said your character is customizable. Can you go into further detail of the extent you’re able to alter your appearance, and can we expect microtransactions for armor/clothing?
Pablo: “The most important point to make about this is that we are aiming to be the perfect free-to-win experience: There is no way to buy an unstoppable character in the ‘pay to win’ tradition. Purchasing items for your character in Skara will be both cosmetic and strategic.
All the equipment has trade-offs, and players will have to use their equipment tactically.
For example, buying some Heavy Armor will make a character more resistant to blows, but it will also slow them down. In the end, a character’s choices about equipment will depend on their combat style and the needs of their faction on the battlefield.
Of course, we think they will enjoy Skara a lot, but our main goal is to create a fun, fast paced and skill based experience for gamers.
Teamwork will be very important in Skara: A well-coordinated and balanced team will have more chances to win a battle than a bunch of uncoordinated players. Teams will need to experiment with the equipment to ensure that they have a wide enough variety of combinations for different environments and situations.
Besides choosing the way a character looks, we want to create ways for players to be able to personalize their combat styles. Characters can unlock different movements, special attacks and even fatalities! These customizable options won´t make your character stronger or faster, but they will distinguish your character from the others.
We are actually running a contest in our forums in which players propose ideas for new fatalities, and our animation team will work on implementing them in the development of Skara.”
Me: The gameplay looks terrific. The hand-to-hand combat looks intense. On top of that the environments look varied and fantastic. What inspired 8-Bit to create such an ambitious 8v8 arena brawler?
Pablo: “Thank you! We still want to keep improving the gameplay and add some new features, but we still can’t believe how far we have come, given that we are a small team with only a dozen of developers. Skara is the game that we always wanted to play as gamers and I think that’s our main motivation and inspiration. And I frankly want to thank our team: their passion and commitment with the project is what made us get here. Most of them have lost track of how many hours and weekends they have spent working on it!”
Me: With MOBA’s and other tactical-team based games turning to eSports, do you see Skara: The Blade Remains, being played in professional capacity?
Pablo: “We are definitely making Skara with the hope that it becomes an e-Sports game, but the truth is whether Skara actually becomes an e-Sport is up to the players. Of course, we think they will enjoy Skara a lot, but our main goal is to create a fun, fast paced and skill based experience for gamers.”
Skara: The Blade Remains looks and sounds like a blast, hopefully we’ll see a ship date soon. Be sure to check out their site for the latest images, videos, and news about the game in the meantime. A big thank you to Pablo Rodriguiz and Cesar Ortega for help and participating in this interview.